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A Great Church

My mentor and spiritual dad is Dr. Bob Lemon. He has spoken a lot of things into my life over the years. After a service years ago we were enjoying a meal and he said, “This is a comfortable church.” I knew immediately that this was not a compliment. He was relating that we can get too comfortable where we are, and stop moving ahead to where we need to be.

Later Dr. Lemon challenged us with this statement: “If your church was suddenly gone, would anyone notice?” In other words, are we having any impact on the community around us?

In my mind I’m merging those observations with images from a book I’ve started reading. The premise of the book is that we may be focusing too much energy into being BIGGER, when we should be endeavoring to be BETTER. Bigger is not necessarily better! We shouldn’t be comfortable sitting where we are. We are responsible to have an impact on the community around us. If our focus is primarily on numerical growth, we may not do either of these things well.

Here’s an interesting quote from the book: “Jesus didn’t wake up this morning depressed by the size of your church. You may have; sometimes I still do. But Jesus isn’t worried even a little bit.”

Consider this: in churches of every size, from the mega-church to the house church, there are good and bad, sick and healthy, friendly and unfriendly, etc., etc. Obviously we all want to be good, healthy and friendly. But none of those things are dependent on size. There’s nothing wrong with being big … or small! But no matter what the size, there’s no reason to be a sick, unfriendly congregation.

John Maxwell, among others said, “People don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care.” A great church is a caring church. We should not only care about the community around us, but the brothers and sisters in Christ who congregate with us each Sunday. It really is easy to get lost in our own tribulations and totally block out hurting people around us. The good news is that as we care for a wounded brother or sister, our own needs have a way of either being met or not seeming as important.

I guess in all this rambling what I’m saying is let’s focus on excellence. Let’s take the next step – whatever that may be – to live like true disciples of our Lord. While doing that we just may get bigger!

Keep the Switch of Faith Turned On

Have you ever heard or read this expression: “Keep the switch of faith turned on”? I remember it well from my early venture into the message of faith. I think it was while I was a student at RHEMA that David Engles wrote the faith-inspiring song by that title. One of the lines came out of scripture: “Cast not away your confidence.” [So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! 36 Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. Hebrews 10:35, 36 (NLT)] “Confidence” is a force at the basis of this. The word in the original Greek means unreserved in speech; free and fearless confidence; cheerful courage, and assurance. The idea here is that staying confident is our responsibility. We need to be courageously confident in our demeanor and our words, based on what Jesus has accomplished for us.

Over the years I’ve discovered that this type of confidence, this refusal to quit, can’t be sustained by mental grit and determination. It has to emanate from deep inside. It’s a matter of the heart! [Proverbs 4:23 Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.]

Let’s take a step back first off. If we’re going to keep the switch turned on, it must first BE turned on! In other words, get established in faith. Faith is explicitly defined in Hebrews 11 as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The only reliable source of this kind of faith is the Bible – the Word of God. How can we possibly trust God without knowing what He said?

Possibly the biggest stumbling block to entering the realm of faith is not knowing God’s will for you. It’s not what you believe He’ll do for a big name minister or a “faith giant.” It’s what you believe He has done for YOU. As long as you entertain the thought that some get left out, you’ll be one who does without. So, how will you know what God’s will is in your case? Only by reading it in His Word and believing what you read.

Here’s a great verse that gives an overview of God’s will for our lives: John 10:10 [Amplified Bible] – The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).

Once we have discovered God’s will, here’s a scripture that comes into play: I Timothy 6:12 – “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” It would be nice if everything just fell into place the first time we felt we were “in faith.” The truth is that, for various reasons, some things require the investment of time. We must grow up spiritually. Our hearts must be repaired. And during this phase many will allow frustration to creep in, even to the extent of either quitting or becoming depressed. This is the time to “keep the switch of faith turned on.” How? Well, allow me to provide some points to ponder.

#1 – focus on what has already been accomplished. Did Jesus die for your sins? Was He bruised for your healing? Is He raised from death and alive forevermore? Does the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from death now live in you? (Romans 8:11)

#2 – watch your mouth. You will believe what you hear yourself say over all others. Stop disagreeing with God’s Word.

#3 – be aware of what has your attention. If the TV news or local newspaper cause anger or fear, eliminate them from your view. Don’t run to some online medical site every time you feel a “pang.” If hanging around a “friend” brings you down, limit your time with them.

#4 – don’t forget that God is on your side. Even if you fail He won’t give up on you, so don’t give up on yourself. Our loving heavenly Father deals with us as a child He prefers. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on.

Writing this has been an encouragement to me. I hope it does the same for you. So, keep the switch of faith turned on!

The Finished Work

Back in the early 70’s I worked for my brother-in-law in aluminum siding. A local company paid us for applying the siding to older homes, hopefully making them look like new. This company wouldn’t release our compensation until the job was completed. On the bigger houses this could take a month or more. As a job was nearing completion, I’d tell my wife, ‘I think we’ll get paid today.’ But invariably we’d finish the day with more work to do. Job not done = no pay.

I relate that story to illustrate this point: our Lord Jesus came to earth with a job to do. The consequences of sin had to be dealt with, once and for all. And the Word of God joyfully reveals that Jesus finished His assignment. Through His death, burial, time in hell and resurrection, Jesus completed the plan of redemption.  The work has been done with nothing more to do. The check is signed in His blood.

What does this mean to you and me? We’re not waiting on God. Prayer isn’t attempting to get God to do something He’s otherwise reluctant to do. We aren’t required to “eek out” a victory over the devil. No good works are necessary to receive answers in prayer. All requests for God’s promises have received a resounding answer: Yes!  The work’s already done. For those who have accepted Jesus’ Lordship, righteousness is ours, health is ours, peace is ours, deliverance is ours, and an abundant life is ours.

Why aren’t we experiencing more of what is already ours? The Bible declares four times, “The just shall live by faith.” We are responsible to believe! And not merely intellectually. We’re to believe in our hearts. Heart belief is at the core of everything we receive in life – good or bad. If we don’t like what we’re receiving, we must check our heart.

But for right now, focus on the finished work. Mankind owed a huge debt that we could never have paid. As Jesus entered heaven and sat on His throne at God’s right hand, He, in effect, handed over a receipt of our bill marked PAID IN FULL!

America’s Pastor Goes Home

I’m sure you’re all aware by now of the passing of Billy Graham this past Wednesday, February 21st. In November he would have turned 100 years old. The bible instructs us to give honor to whom honor is due. This is certainly appropriate when it comes to William Franklin Graham Jr. A biography of his life would require volumes of work. I’m sure that much will be written (and has already been) about this great American icon. I’d just like to add a few thoughts from my perspective.

Billy Graham’s crusades ran on television from 1947 until he retired in 2005. In the early days Christian TV was a rare commodity. With today’s satellite and cable networks we can watch it day and night, but not so back then. I don’t remember watching the crusades, but one incident concerning them stands out. In the summer of 1967 I was working in a dress factory in northeast Pennsylvania. I was wheeling a barrel of scraps through the sewing area when I overheard a conversation between two men. They had viewed a Graham crusade the night before. One man said to the other, “You listen to him and before long you start believing him!” As a true evangelist, Billy had that God-given gift of drawing people to the Light.

If you had ever attended a crusade you would have observed Billy’s gift in operation. He was an anointed speaker, no doubt, but I’m referring to his call to repentance (altar call). He would say something to the effect that it was time to come forward and receive Jesus as Savior. As soon as the words came forth from his lips people would rise to their feet and begin to scramble down the aisles. There was no begging or brow beating. They just came … and came … and kept coming. Who knows how many thousands (millions?) of people came to a saving knowledge of Jesus in the ministry of Billy Graham.

Another marvelous aspect of Billy Graham’s life was his affiliation with American presidents. He was a spiritual advisor for every president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. According to Wikipedia, he was particularly close to Dwight D. EisenhowerLyndon B. Johnson (one of Graham’s closest friends), and Richard Nixon. Like Jesus, Billy didn’t take sides politically. Instead he built bridges of communication to all ideologies. He insisted on racial integration for his revivals and crusades at a time when that was not “popular.” In 1953 Billy invited Martin Luther King Jr. to preach along with him at a revival in New York City. Obviously he was a true ambassador of Christ.

Since his death I heard about an interview with Billy Graham where he was asked about entering heaven someday. He said, “All I want is to hear Jesus say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’” There’s no doubt that’s exactly what Jesus said as He welcomed this faithful witness home.

For those of us who remain, Billy Graham’s life and testimony serve as reminders maintain a living communion with God, and to love people unconditionally. We may not have the opportunity to minister to millions as Billy did. But we can live for God in such a way as to influence the family, friends and associates around us. One of those could be the next Billy Graham!

His Grace is Sufficient

His Grace is Sufficient!

I’ve heard a lot of the theories of what Paul was talking about in II Corinthians 12. People who rarely read a Bible have heard of “Paul’s thorn in the flesh.” Paul’s experience here, plus Job’s troubles come to the forefront whenever immovable faith in God is presented. “What about Paul’s thorn? What about Job?”

Personally, as I’ve read and studied II Corinthians 12 I’ve found reason to trust God more, not less. What Paul learned was how to access the power of God on his behalf. And we’re blessed, because he passed on what he learned to us.

As far as I can tell, the most detrimental problem here is associated with verse 9.

II Corinthians 12:9 [NASB] And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

The problem is that so many are reading God’s response to Paul’s request for help as “No!” That is clearly not what it says. God’s answer? “My grace is sufficient.” What does “sufficient” mean? According to Strong’s it is defined as “to be possessed of unfailing strength; to be enough; to be contented.” His grace is strong, unfailingly strong. It is enough – more than enough – for any problem we could ever face. It is contented – not worried or frazzled over the problem. Add to this the understanding that grace is God’s ability in us to do what we couldn’t do on our own, and we have ample reason to live confidently.

James 4:6 tells us that God gives more grace. Here in II Corinthians 12:9 we’ve seen that this grace is unfailingly strong and contented. Call on that grace. Lean on that grace. Trust in that grace. It will work for you!

While I will readily admit to you that I’m still laboring to learn to rest in God’s grace, I have recently experienced the life-giving dynamic of this great spiritual force. So I can verify – HIS GRACE IS SUFFICIENT!! Had it not been, well, I would most likely have checked out of this life early. But God … I’m still piecing together what happened, but I know this much, the grace of God rescued me when nothing else could.

His grace is sufficient!

Mother Knows Best Mother Knows Best

It was about a month before Christmas. I was twelve years old. All I wanted for Christmas was an electric football game. I had seen it advertised on TV. You place your eleven players opposite the other team’s eleven on the “field” and stuck the little magnetic football on one of your players. Then you turn on the switch and brrrrrrrr…the “field” begins to vibrate, all the players begin to move, and you’re set for many hours of fun and excitement! What more could a twelve year old football enthusiast ask for?

We lived in a little two bedroom apartment at the time. That’s a family of five with one bathroom and two bedrooms. There was one main closet just off the kitchen. Since this was the only one, this closet contained about every item you could think of, and a bunch you wouldn’t; and of course this was the only place for mom to hide Christmas presents.

One morning I was getting ready to leave for school. I reached into our closet to get my winter coat and saw it! There, way in the back, partially hidden under some winter boots, was my electric football game!

I should have left well enough alone – I should have been happy to know that I was getting the very thing I really wanted for Christmas – but I didn’t. I immediately began to work on my mom to wear her down and get her to let me play with my electric football game.

She wouldn’t give in at first. She insisted that it would ruin my Christmas if I got it out ahead of time. But I was persistent. I guaranteed mom that I wouldn’t let my Christmas be ruined by playing a few innocent games. It took some time, but mom relented and I opened my electric football game.

The “field” was about 18” x 36”, painted green with white lines for yard markers. It came with two teams of eleven players each, painted different colors to tell them apart; two little white plastic goal posts that inserted on either end of the field; a few magnetic footballs; two thin metal inserts painted to represent the home and away fans in the stands; and a little molded plastic, spring-loaded item that acted as a kicker and a passer. It was heaven in a brown cardboard container!

I followed the instructions: pushed all the tabs into the appropriate slots, stuck on the numbered decals, plugged the cord into an appropriate wall socket and was ready to play. I set the defense up, then my offense and, trembling with anticipation, turned on the switch. Sure enough the playing field began to vibrate and all the players began to move. The player with the magnetic football attached moved forward and gained a few “yards” until touched by one of the defensive players, meaning he was down – tackled. On second down I set up the defense, set up my offense and turned on the switch. Brrrrrrr…off the players went. A few yards gained. Third down now. You guessed it – more of the same. As boring as this sounds, I was thoroughly entertained by it for days! I played electric football every available minute.

Then came Christmas morning. My family at that time was struggling financially. My electric football game was a big expenditure of available cash and turned out to be virtually my only Christmas present. [Socks and underwear count for very little to a twelve year old] So, Christmas was the let down that mom predicted. But even more, by this time the electric football game was definitely losing its appeal. The brrrrrrrrr was getting downright annoying! Setting up the players after every play was tedious, and the players did virtually the same thing every time the switch was turned on.

One of the early situation comedies on TV was a show called “Father Knows Best”. This was one situation in my life that proved it was mother, not father, who knew best.

‘Tis the Season

I’m sure you’re familiar with this Christmas season song line: “Tis the season to be jolly.” Christmas should be truly joyful. Think of what we’re celebrating! Sadly though, for many it’s not joyful at all. In fact, the holiday season brings out the worst in many people. (Although I read an article online which stated that December is actually the lowest month for suicides) First of all, many have forgotten or are unaware of what Christmas represents. Then there’s the financial outlay of the season and the hectic docket of things to do – shopping, wrapping, family and friends to visit, and preparing for their company. For those who are missing family at this time of year it can be troublesome.

I had a friend I worked with years ago that took his own life on New Year’s Eve, depressed because his pristine Mustang fastback was borrowed by a friend an returned with scratches on it. (Obviously he had some hart issues also)

I’ve had this verse on my mind:

Psalm 42:11 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.

The words “cast down” express the idea of being bowed down with mourning. “Depression” is the term that comes to mind. And depression isn’t limited to the holidays. For some it’s a year round issue of their souls. I have lived at that “address,” and there’s nothing good about it. Depression will produce physical symptoms like ulcers and sleep disorders. I didn’t like facing it but I became extremely selfish. My thought pattern was, “If my wife would just do this, or if my kids would stop doing that, my life would be just fine!” So I treated them like they were problems rather than loved ones. Thankfully they put up with me till I snapped out of it.

The first thing I learned about coming out of depression was awareness. Until I was aware that I was depressed there was no improvement. I had to admit, “Yes, I am depressed.” That wasn’t a bad confession. That was simply admitting where I was at the time. I discovered the need to apologize to those closest to me for how I’d been treating them. I repented to God too! “Repent” means I changed my mind – my thought patterns – and adopted new ones.

One other thing, I had to redevelop my hope. Hopelessness is congruent with depression. The Word of God along with time in His presence began to build hope in me again. Thank You Father!

There’s much more to say on this subject, but let me close with this. I did a Bible study on depression years ago and found only one verse in the NKJV using the actual word: Proverbs 12:25 Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad. Take two principles from this verse: (1) Anxiety is poisonous. (2) If you have a friend who’s depressed, the best thing you can do is give them a good word. Don’t preach at them. Just be patient with them and encourage them. They’re worth the effort!

Who’s Afraid of Halloween?

As I sit here in my office it’s the afternoon of October 31, Halloween. Halloween has become quite a holiday. I read recently that “One quarter of all the candy sold annually in the U.S. is purchased for Halloween.” I’ve also noticed that Halloween decorations are becoming more numerous and elaborate. In fact, I’ve heard a radio news report declare that only Christmas surpasses Halloween in consumer dollars spent. Suffice to say that Halloween has become a major industry here in the US.

For Christians, Halloween presents a conundrum. The holiday’s focus is on ghosts, goblins, devils and fear. TV producers bring out all their macabre movies. Some of the kids going door to door dress up like zombies, vampires and the like. Pumpkins are carved with eerie faces. Store windows are littered with ghoulish decals. The theme seems to be “Let’s see how we can scare people.” Yet the Bible quotes God – over 300 times – saying “Fear not!” So often we Christians turn off the lights and hide ourselves away, not wanting to participate in the whole creepy thing!

On the other hand, the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” [I Corinthians 9:22] How can we affect the people around us if we hide away from them till the holiday is over?

Halloween has an interesting back story. It originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. People would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1st as a time to honor all saints. It became “All Saints Day” and soon began to incorporate some of the same traditions. The evening before November 1st was known as “All Hallows Eve,” and later Halloween. Over time activities like trick-or-treating and carving jack-o-lanterns were added and then accepted as the norm.

So we have quite a mixture here of saints and ghosts, fellowship and fear. It’s comforting to think about this being harvest time with colorful leaves and a chill in the air. Yet Halloween carries scary movies, blood gorged vampires, houses tented in toilet paper, etc. etc. We want to take a stand against fear, yet we want to be light and salt to a world around us that need a relationship with their Savior. What will we do? How shall we conduct ourselves?

I guess this comes down to the place where most controversial matters must come – we’ll each have to follow our own heart. The Bible dictates that we pursue peace and let it be our umpire. What’s your heart telling you?

The Hidden Man of the Heart

I Peter 3:4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.

Have you ever considered who you are inside? Speaking from a biblical perspective, the inside of us is extremely important. Jesus’ accusation for the religious bunch in His day was that they were like whitewashed sepulchers, full of dead men’s bones. They looked good outside, but they were dead inside.

Such is the case of the unsaved. A man could dress in a $1000 suit and a $200 tie after a spa treatment on his skin, and doused in a manly smelling cologne, yet be deader than a doornail on the inside!

But a man or woman who has received Jesus as Lord and Savior has been made new on the inside. [II Corinthians 5:17] They’ve been made righteous (right; as they should be). [II Corinthians 5:21] They are children of God, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus. [Romans 8:16, 17] That’s far different than being dead inside!

As born again children of God we’re now supposed to conduct our lives by who we are inside. God now lives there in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Consider this verse:

Proverbs 20:27 [AMP] The spirit of man [that factor in human personality which proceeds immediately from God] is the lamp of the Lord, searching all his innermost parts.

The illumination of God shines from the inside out, not vice versa. This really serves two purpose. First, it is there to lead us in the right direction for our lives. We know from reading Psalms that the Bible – the Word of God – is both a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Then secondly God’s light inside is a beacon to those around us. We grew up singing “This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine.” When Jesus lived here on earth, He was he light. Now we are to be light and salt. [Ephesians 5:8]

The main principle of living from the inside is acknowledging who we are inside to ourselves. A person could be born again with all the intrinsic changes that brings, and yet live totally dependent on the “outside man.” The Bible refers to this man as “the flesh.” In our Thursday night discussion group we’ve been focusing on tapping into who we are inside. Living “outwardly” is tiring, painful and lacking in power. We want to make positive, long-lasting changes, but we try and often fail. The reason we fail is that we’re depending on the outer man who is weak and worn out. Strength comes from within!

So what should we do? There isn’t space here to go into detail, but suffice to say this: study the New Testament for scriptures that tell you who you are in Christ – who you are inside since being born again. Then think about them, meditate on them, and see yourself experiencing them. This is who you really are!

Give Your Faith A Lift

October 2017

 

Give your faith a lift!

I learned a lot of wonderful truths when I attended RHEMA Bible Training Center years ago. In one of our classes the teacher pointed out that God has made available to us forces that aid or cooperate with our faith. The obvious one is love. Galatians 5:6 shows that faith works, or is energized, by love.

Another powerful partner of faith is laid out for us in Hebrews 6:11, 12.

And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Faith and patience are to be imitated. When we observe others who are realizing God’s promises, we should watch and learn.

Verse 11 describes the attitude we’re to have in this. First we’re told to “show the same diligence.” Strong’s Concordance renders the meaning “interest oneself most earnestly.” In other words, this is one of those areas that requires our attention. “Hope” describes a joyful, confident expectation. Don’t lose hope!

In verse 12 we’re told not to “become sluggish.” According to the dictionary, sluggish has these meanings: slow-moving or inactive; lacking in energy or alertness; slow to respond or make progress. Obviously being sluggish is not being diligent. I think we all want to “inherit the promises.” [Inherit means to receive – or become a partaker of – your portion.] Therefore faith and patience need to be imitated.

Faith is well defined in Hebrews 11:1 – it gives our hopes substance and is our evidence of promises which can’t yet be seen. In light of that, one of the things we should be diligent about is gathering evidence. If we’re experiencing a struggle in our finances, for example, our accounts may be providing evidence of lack. Our part then is to gather evidence to override that. It begins with musing on scriptures like “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want (lack),” [Psalm 23:1] and “… my God shall supply all your need …” [Philippians 4:19] Add to that using the imagination to “experience” the provision. Faith releases God’s grace – His ability in us to do what we couldn’t on our own. As believers faith can (and should) become our natural response to difficult times.

Then we come to “patience.” I can tell you that my understanding of patience years ago was that I was waiting – waiting on God to heal, deliver, prosper or whatever. Then I discovered there’s a flaw in that understanding. Healing, deliverance, forgiveness, peace, provision, security, etc., are already accomplished for us in Christ! There’s no such thing as waiting for what’s already done!

Well, what does patience mean then? Strong’s gives this definition: “the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings. Vine’s Expository Dictionary says patience is “the quality which does not surrender to circumstances or succumb under trial.”

If you’re scratching your head trying to digest all that, think of it this way. Going back to our illustration, in the midst of financial hardship we’re assured that everything needed has already been provided. Therefore there’s no reason to quit or even become discouraged (hopeless). Psalm 42:5 says, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.

An insurance company add used to tell us that when we purchased their insurance we were in good hands. Our true assurance is that we’re in good hands when our faith and patience are leaning securely on our loving heavenly Father!

Faith and patience have been called the power twins!